But this area in southern Sweden, best known as the home of Absolut vodka, has not generally substituted solar panels or wind turbines for the traditional fuels it has forsaken. Instead, as befits a region that is an epicenter of farming and food processing, it generates energy from a motley assortment of ingredients like potato peels, manure, used cooking oil, stale cookies and pig intestines.
A hulking 10-year-old plant on the outskirts of Kristianstad uses a biological process to transform the detritus into biogas, a form of methane. That gas is burned to create heat and electricity, or is refined as a fuel for cars.
Once the city fathers got into the habit of harnessing power locally, they saw fuel everywhere: Kristianstad also burns gas emanating from an old landfill and sewage ponds, as well as wood waste from flooring factories and tree prunings.
Kristianstad has gone further, harnessing biogas for an across-the-board regional energy makeover that has halved its fossil fuel use and reduced the city’s carbon dioxide emissions by one-quarter in the last decade.
“It’s a much more secure energy supply — we didn’t want to buy oil anymore from the Middle East or Norway,” said Lennart Erfors, the engineer who is overseeing the transition in this colorful city of 18th-century row houses. “And it has created jobs in the energy sector.”
The economics should be clear: more (economically) sustainable, less volatile energy--cheaper (once fixed costs are offset). The story's not about the pure technology of a biogas plant--the story is, more deeply, about institutionalizing a cycle, buying, collecting, reusing waste; creating a new market where there wasn't one before. Hence, the article notes:
"So far in the United States, such projects have been limited by high initial costs, scant government financing and the lack of a business model. There is no supply network for moving manure to a centralized plant and no outlet to sell the biogas generated."
It's institutions that are the foundations of 21st century advantage. Sweden's just one of a growing number of pioneers--companies, economies, entire countries--building value cycles, and learning to shift to next-generation economics. Lesson? If you want to be disruptive, get constructive. The question is: are you?